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Surprising Science

Can you turn CO2 on Mars into sugar? NASA will give $1 million to the person who can.

Calling all enterprising scientists who are dying to retire ... or just put some cool cash into the bank.
Two employees work on pipes carrying liquid CO2 on September 08, 2008 at the 'Schwarze Pumpe' ('Black Pump') power station run by Europe's biggest power company Vattenfall in Werder near Berlin. (Photo credit MICHAEL URBAN/AFP/Getty Images)

Looking to turn carbon from the planet Mars into useful compounds such as sugar, NASA is offering up to a cool $1 million to anyone who can solve how to accomplish such a process.


The conundrum is that spacecraft heading to the planet—or any other, for that matter—will have limited space to bring equipment and materials to accomplish something like creating sugar from carbon dioxide, which is quite abundant on Mars.



An employee poses with a pipe used to carry liquid CO2 on September 08, 2008 at the ‘Schwarze Pumpe’ (‘Black Pump’) power station run by Europe’s biggest power company Vattenfall in Werder near Berlin. (Photo credit MICHAEL URBAN/AFP/Getty Images)

Why sugar, though?

Because carbon and oxygen combine to make sugar—and glucose from sugar is the easiest for, say, microbe-milking bioreactors to metabolize, and therefore, the most efficient. 



The NASA logo is displayed at the agency’s booth during CES 2018 at the Las Vegas Convention Center on January 11, 2018 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)


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